Remaking “Go Out to Play, Child”

Thoughts on Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Anxious Generation, and how “Go out to play, child” has morphed into sending our children online rather than outside. It’s not time to feel guilty, but probably time to change things.

Thoughts on: Jonathan Haidt’s The Anxious Generation

Realisation: A redefinition of the concept of “Go out to play”

I am listening to Jonathan Haidt’s The Anxious Generation. As a mother to a teenaged daughter who spends too much time online, it is alarming. I have all the excuses, all the reasons, and the justifications as to why she is online for so much of her day. But it doesn’t detract from the essential problem: my child’s life, creativity, health, and potential are being minimised by her online dependence.

Haidt’s words are swirling around and around in my mind. I think back to my Gen X upbringing, where we roamed the streets from the ages of seven, eight, or nine without parental oversight. We didn’t stray far, but we strayed.

I think about stories from earlier generations of children being sent out to play in the morning and being told not to return until dark or dinner – whichever came first.

I wonder how it came to the point where such an idea was unimaginable for our daughter’s generation. And why we thought it was better that they didn’t.

The guilt rises (what have we done?) and then I think on it more.

Our fear of letting our children roam free keeps them indoors. We believe ourselves to be shielding them from danger. But whether indoors or outdoors, children need to play.

As with every generation, parents do not want to (can not be) the source of entertainment or play for their children all day. Nor should they be.

And children playing indoors all day drives parents crazy.

In previous generations, children were told to go out to play – to stay out of the house, to stay out of their parents’ way. Until they weren’t. Because nowadays we think children need to be kept safe – from the dangers that lurk outside, out of eyeshot, up trees, in puddles, on roads…

But we still do not want to (can not) be the source of play for our children all day, to take them out always. And too much play in the house can drive us crazy.

So we send them out. To play on Minecraft, on Roblox, on Fortnite, on Instagram, on TikTok. Online.

Unsupervised, unmonitored, unprepared. Alone.

It’s hard not to feel guilty about this. I do and I will (about this and many other things, of course). But what I have come to understand is that parents have always been sending their children out. In the past, that involved children going out to play and learn and grow in the world. Today, however, so much of the ‘playing’ of childhood and teenage life takes place in the artificial, disconnected world of the internet.

The Anxious Generation

Part of my thoughts on parenting pieces.

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